When a samurai finds himself without a master, either through death or shame, he becomes known as a ronin.
Early in 1703 (by the Gregorian calendar,) 47 samurai became ronin when their master insulted a visiting shogun and was granted the right to die honourably by killing himself. The ronin were not afforded this privilege and were banished from their community with the expressed limitation that they never take revenge for their master’s death.
To ensure that the shogun’s rule is followed, the samurai’s leader was thrown into a pit for a year, to break his spirit. For two years the ronin secretly plotted their revenge. Among those 47 ronin, at least in this adaptation of the story, is an ostracized half-breed known as Kai (Keanu Reeves). His skills in combat are so impressive that he is allowed to fight as one of the ronin.
We say, “Once again, there can only be one.”
TAYLOR: There are a few things wrong with this film. There usually are, but the things that hinder 47 Ronin in my mind, or at the box office, aren’t the products of anything you can put your finger on. I can’t say, “X ruined this film,” with any real degree of accuracy, but overall, everything about this film was a little disappointing, with the surprising exception of Keanu Reeves.
HOWE: I thought Keanu was good in this. He was able to bring his Matrix face along. You know the one, the mean and moody looking style along with a matching ponytail just so you can distinguish between the two movies. Add to the fact that he only said about seven lines throughout the whole movie, which is an added bonus.
Are we looking at an Oscar contender here?
TAYLOR: I was surprised and pleased to see some mythical beasts and magic involved in the film. I thought perhaps we were going to see a simple sword fighting epic, sort of Seven Samurai meets Braveheart. However, the tacked-on romance was completely unnecessary and probably deserves to be dismissed as being unreasonable in this time and place, but hey, it’s a Universal picture.
HOWE: I don’t think there was near enough magic or mythical beasts. In the first five minutes, when they are tracking the mountain beast, I thought this could be a really interesting movie, then to me it just fizzled away. It felt like they blew a lot of dollars on the effects for that one scene. And please, don’t get me started on the monk. He looked like he had a head of a bird that they just threw some Play-Doh on and asked some kindergarten kids to attack him with a spoon. Very poor.
TAYLOR: First-time director Carl Risch was given $170 million to make this film, in 2008. That’s quite a while for a film to be stewing, especially for something that would have been made better by doing less: Less romance, less Reeves, less English. I think 47 Ronin should have been shot in the native tongue of the actors and been more colourful, brighter, even happier. This entire film was filmed in grey mud, snow and the occasional green hill. It could have been a historical epic of extraordinary magnitude, instead it’s a disposable, forgettable film worthy of a better treatment.
– Howe gives it 3 scars on the head out of 5.
– Taylor gives it 2 tanto out of 5.
The film is currently playing at the Galaxy Cinemas in Vernon.
– Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are film reviewers based in Vernon, B.C.